The Enduring Strangeness Of Nicolas Cage

Actor Nicholas Cage and his wife Alice arrive for the screening of the film The Croods at the 63rd edition of the Berlinale, International Film Festival in Berlin, Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)
  • In “Dream Scenario,” the new A24 film from the writer-director Kristoffer Borgli, Nicolas Cage plays Paul Matthews, an underappreciated and ineffectual college professor who finds fame because of an odd metaphysical happenstance: he unwittingly begins appearing in people’s dreams all over the world.
  • The film, which follows Paul through his brief rise and seemingly endless fall, could have only worked with Cage in the lead. Paul has shades of Bryan Cranston’s Walter White and Paul Giamatti’s Miles, in “Sideways,” but it’s hard to imagine any actor but Cage embracing the hairpin tonal shifts that the part requires.
  • When we first meet Paul, Cage’s performance seems slightly off, too big and, perhaps, too artificial for a film that needs grounding in real emotions. It’s almost as if Cage is wearing Paul as a mask. He has altered his voice (it’s high pitched and adenoidal), his walk (he’s hunched over, almost cowering), and his hairline (a curious tonsure of baldness).
  • But soon we realize that it is Paul who is slightly off, too heightened for his surroundings. As we watch him rehearse social interactions and recite canned jokes, it becomes clear that he’s in pain, and enraged, and he has pasted on the visage of a happy family man—one that Cage peels off to reveal the yearning, desperation, and monstrous ego hiding underneath.